Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WORKS Minister Desmond Bannister has urged Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) customers with overdue accounts to contact the electricity provider to work out payment plans.
As he responded to complaints of continued disconnections of accounts amid hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Bannister said BPL is open to negotiating and agreeing with customers on payment plans.
He said BPL was aware of the circumstances and insisted officials were empathetic to the plight of customers.
The minister made the appeal during an interview with reporters yesterday outside Cabinet, where he underscored that in good times BPL has a minimum of $90m owed to it each month.
“It’s very important if people are concerned about that for them to contact BPL,” he said.
“They have the same amount of empathy for anybody who has a challenge. They’re going to work with Bahamian people so if there’s been a challenge – contact BPL.
“BPL has special instructions especially as it relates to the people who are threatened or have been disconnected. They don’t want to see anybody off. BPL doesn’t make any money when you’re disconnected. All they want is to have agreements in place so that the revenue could come in and that’s important. I want people to appreciate that. Every month, BPL has to buy fuel, every single month.”
“They have to keep power on for the rest of us and so they have to be able to put financial agreements in place for people who haven’t been able to pay. That’s all they want. They are just like the rest of us. They have a tremendous amount of empathy and I would urge anyone who has a challenge to contact us.”
In March, BPL halted disconnections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, with the company initially saying it would suspend disconnections as long as the government maintained the COVID-19 emergency orders.
However, the government-owned utility later resumed disconnections after it had announced in July that it would discontinue electricity services of customers who were $500 or more in arrears, and 90 days past due, prior to April 1.
Last month, a BPL official revealed to The Tribune the company had turned off 8,741 residential accounts in New Providence and the Family Islands since July.
However, a few days later it backtracked on the previous statement saying the actual number of disconnections stood at 3,011 as of October 23 as a large number of customers had been reconnected.
Yesterday, Mr Bannister urged all BPL customers who have the funds available to make the payments to the power provider. He added BPL cannot continue to “exist” if households and businesses fail to pay their monthly bills as the company has financial obligations like everyone else.
“I think it’s important for all of us to understand, as I said before that the government, BPL can’t go to the public treasury and say I need $10m or I need $20m this month for fuel,” he said.
“They have to buy fuel. They have to pay their staff. They have to continue to exist. The only way they’re going to exist is if they have some revenue in and every time, I say something about disconnecting, people who can pay decide that they’re not going to pay.”
“It’s important that if you can pay that you go out and pay and that’s the only way that this entity is going to continue to exist. We need everybody who can pay to be responsible and pay and then the company can exist. If BPL don’t get some money in they cannot keep the generations going.”
Asked yesterday about BPL’s arrears, the minister replied: “You know in good times BPL has $90m each month in arrears. Ninety million to 100 million in good times and BPL doesn’t put on any surcharges when you pay late.
“They don’t do that and so people push it, but it’s important for us not to push it and it’s important for all of us to pay,” Mr Bannister said.